Truth is often a careful mid-point between two extremes. The great fallacy for most of us is not to believe a lie, but to believe one truth too much, to the exclusion of an opposite truth.
Jesus spoke of the narrow way. I believe the reason He spoke of the narrow way is because it is so easy to go too far this way or that. The narrow way is in the middle of the broad way. The narrow way is walking the center stripe down the middle of the road. There are often a thousand ways to go wrong. Only careful wisdom will keep us on the right way, the narrow way, the center strip.
Before I get too far into this discussion, let me illustrate how this works. I have often done it this way in seminars. I divide the crowd into two groups—men and women works. I ask the men to look at this verse and be prepared to answer the accompanying question:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28–30 [NIV]
According to this verse, is Christian living easy or hard?
Then, I have the men close their eyes, while the women look at this verse and the same question:
“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. Acts 14:22b [NIV]
According to this verse, is Christian living easy or hard?
Then, in one voice I have them answer together. On three, is Christian living easy or hard? One … two … three … The room fills with a conflicting sound. Half the room says “easy” while the other half says, “hard.”
Actually, it is not split quite evenly. Usually, about three fourths of the room says, “hard” while only one fourth says, “easy.” This is because people are letting their own experience shape their thinking. They are not answering according to the verse I gave them, they are answering according to their experience. Many have found Christian living to be hard, very hard.
This demonstrates something rather profound about the modern church. Christian living is hard for us. Even though Jesus said His yoke is easy, most Christians find it hard. And, even with the verse right in front of them, they will say that Christian living is hard. We have not found the narrow way.
Christian living is either easy or impossible, because it isn’t you living it. It is Christ living his life through you.
- “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 [NIV]
- for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philip. 2:13 [NIV]
- To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. Colossians 1:29 (NIV)
Allow me to make this very real for you. Think of a day when you lived the Christian life reasonably well. Think of a day when you walked in the Spirit, when you abided in Christ, when you were living a fruit of the spirit life. If you can’t think of a day, think of an hour, or a moment. Can you think of a time? (I hope you are thinking of right now.) On that day or hour or moment when you lived the Christ life, was it easy or hard?
Christian living is easy when you are living it. When the Spirit is flowing through you. When the Wind of the Spirit fills your sails, it is easy. Peter spoke of the men who wrote the Bible as being carried along. (2 Peter 1:21) It is not hard to be carried. Someone else is doing the work. We can’t be carried as perfectly as the men who wrote the Bible, but we can be carried along by the Spirit.
I believe the reason many of our churches are failing is because they have not taken on Jesus’ easy yoke. They have taken on the yoke of law. They have taken on the yoke of duty. They have taken on the yoke of religion. For if we put on Jesus’ yoke we will find it as Jesus described: easy. Christian living is either easy or impossible. It is easy because it isn’t you living it; it is Christ living his life through you.
If you have found Christian living to be a struggle, if you have found it to be a pain, if it is for you a duty or an obligation or ought-to and should-have and you-better, you have taken on the wrong yoke. That is the yoke of religion. That is the yoke of law. Take off that yoke. Put on Jesus’ yoke. It fits. It is easy. It is a yoke of grace and acceptance and love and mercy and forgiveness and being carried along by the Holy Spirit.
That will preach, and it is all true. But. It is not the only thing that is true. This is also true: we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God. He never promised us a rose garden, or, if He did, we must remember that roses have thorns. Jesus suffered and we will suffer. He was called the man of sorrow and if we follow His way we will have sorrows. He will discipline us as children he loves. The world is a painful place. The storms come—to the just and the unjust, the storms come. It is sometimes a hard place.
Jump ball questions get us in touch with both sides. They help us find the narrow way.
The narrow way, in this case is understanding that, in a way, Christianity is both easy and hard. Christ lives his life through us and it is a matter of getting out of the way and letting Him live His life. But, it is not completely passive. Consider these verses that speak of working hard to live the Christian life:
- We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 1 Cor. 4:12 [NIV]
- For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 2 Peter 1:5 [NIV]
- Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, Col. 3:23 [NIV]
These two verses, that straddle a chapter break bring together the balance: To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. Col. 1:29–2:1 [NIV]
Who is struggling and with whose energy? Is Christian living active or passive? Is it letting go and letting God, or is it working hard?
Christian living is both active and passive. It is working hard and letting go and letting God have His way. The narrow way understand both. The jump-ball question gets us in touch with the tension.
Sovereignty versus free will
The classic example of this tension is the issue of predestination versus free will. I grew up in a Baptist home and a Baptist church and came to believe the middle of the road Baptist perspective on this matter. Baptists are not in universal agreement on this matter, but there is a big middle that is in approximate agreement. I thought everyone who was a real Christian saw it this way, and only fringe groups saw it any other way.
As it turns out, Baptist, as best I can tell, are kind of an anomaly. The world has been divided down predestination/free-will lines, and Baptist don’t fit neatly into either category.
Down through the centuries, the church could be divided along the two lines that go like this:
Calvinist love these verses:
- You did not choose me, but I chose you. John 15:16a [NIV]
- It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. Romans 9:16 [NIV]
- As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, Ephes. 2:1 [NIV] (Implication: dead men can choose Christ. They have to be regenerated from the outside.
- These verses are all about before salvation. There are corresponding verses that Calvinist love for after salvation.
- Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philip. 1:6 [NIV]
- I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. John 10:28–29 [NIV]
Arminians don’t like to talk about those verses. They like to talk about these verses:
- And then, whoever calls out to the Lord for help will be saved.’ Acts 2:21 [TEV]
- Whoever will CALL UPON THE NAME OF THE Lord WILL BE SAVED. Romans 10:13 [NASB]
- The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 [NIV]
- And, consistent with the free-will approach, Arminians believe that if you get saved and you don’t like it, you can leave. It is a kind of money-back guarantee. They are very comfortable with the verses that say, “If we disown him, he will also disown us.” 2 Tim. 2:12b [NIV] or, as other translations have it, “If we deny Him, He also will deny us.” 2 Tim. 2:12b [NASB]
So, we can divide these beliefs into a matrix:
| Before salvation
|| Whosoever will may come.
|| You did not choose me; I choose you.
| After salvation
|| If we deny Him, He will deny us.
|| He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.
I have no desire to enter this debate. Brothers have been debating this issue since the time of Paul and will be debating till Christ’s return. My point is this: if you push any one of those beliefs into the corner, you get stupidity.
Let’s take the lower right-hand box as an example. I heard an interview one time where a man was asked about his theology at this point. “Do you believe in once saved, always saved”?
“Oh yes, I believe it so strongly that I believe that once you place your faith in Christ you could backslide and wander from God or even outright reject God and say to Him, ‘I don’t want your salvation. I don’t want to be a Christian. I no longer believe.’ and God will hold you by the nap of your neck and say, ‘Sorry. You wanted in. You can’t get out.’ ”
I asked my dad, who believes in the security of our salvation, about this. “Is that right, Dad?” We can shake our fist in the face of God and say, “I don’t want your salvation. And God will hold us and say, ‘Too bad, you wanted in; you can’t get out’?” My dad wisely responded, “I wouldn’t try that if I were you, Son.”
My Dad understood the narrow way. He understood that we have security in our salvation and we can rest in our relationship with God. But, there is a reason the Bible includes the warnings that those who endure to the end will be saved.
If you push any one of those four quadrants to the corner, you get stupidity.
You may not believe, as the Calvinist do that your salvation was predetermined before the start of time, but I hope you understand there was more going on than you just being able to see a good deal and being smart enough to get in on it. God was acting on you from the outside. He was doing for you what you could not do for yourself.
You may believe that God has determined who will be saved, but don’t believe as strongly as those who opposed William Carey, the father of the modern missions movement, and said, “Sit down, young man, if God wants to save the heathen in India, he will do it without your help or mine.” That is Calvinism pushed to the corners and Calvinism pushed too far.
You may think you can lose your salvation, but I hope you see that possibility as a rather extreme case. Isaiah 49:15 asks, “Can a mother forget her baby?” The answer is, “Not usually.” There is an extremely strong bond between a parent and a child. But, you have known situations as I have where a parent did forget their child. Still, the point is, it is rare. I hope you have the confidence in God and understand that you would have to be extremely and openly rebellious toward God in a rather sustained way for Him to put you out.
When you push any one of the doctrines to its corner, you end up with heresy. What you end up with is stupidity.
Faith and works
Another place where the tension is been hotly debated is over the issue of faith and works. If you are, as I am, on the protestant/evangelical side of things, you are probably uncomfortable with this statement:
Faith by itself,
if it is not accompanied by action,
We read a statement like that and it sounds vaguely familiar so we don’t want to reject it outright, but we sure want to say, “Yeah, but …” We don’t embrace it in the same way we embrace the verse that says, “not by works, so that no one can boast.” We have not memorized James 2:17 as we have memorized Ephesians 2:9. We are out of balance. We have lost the narrow way. When we read Ephesians 2:9 we pound the pulpit and raise our voices. When we read James 2:17, we mumble.
We need to get comfortable with the fact that there is no salvation without works. That kind of faith—the works-free kind does not save. Works don’t save, but there is no salvation without them. Do you feel the tension? That is the narrow way. “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” James 2:22 [NIV]
Jesus taught that “by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:16) Some have preached a gospel that suggests you can live like the devil and end up with the angels as long as you do this transaction called being saved. The Bible does not teach that. But, it is not about behaving our way into heaven, either. It is about walking the narrow way.
Jump ball questions get us in touch with the narrow way. They get us in touch with the tension. Most people don’t believe a lie so much that they believe the truth in an out of balance way. They have missed the narrow way. The jump ball questions helps to get the group back into the center.
Sunday School is famous for giving oversimplified answers to complex questions. A “Sunday School” answer does not mean a profound, thoughtful answer. It means an overly simplistic answer to a complex question. Answers like:
- We are saved by grace through faith apart from works and that is that.
- Once saved and always saved.
- Let go and let God.
- It is not about you.
The truth is, there is more to it than that. The truth is more complex than that. The truth is:
- We are saved by grace through faith apart from works, but it is always the kind of faith that is accompanied by works.
- Once saved always saved, but those who endure to the end are the ones that are truly saved and if we disown Him, He will disown us.
- Let go and let God. “To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Colossians 1:29 (NIV)
- It is not about you, but God does offer you an abundant life. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 [NIV]
All through the Bible we find this tension. Jump-ball questions get us in touch with the tension.
We need to teach people to think, to argue, to defend their position, to balance opposing ideas. I heard a Christian counselor say recently he has never seen a single example where a couple disagreed over a parenting strategy and the best answer was on one side or the other. The best answer was always the narrow way somewhere in between. One parent wants to be more strict. The other wants to be more lenient. The narrow way is in between.
Chuck Swindoll’s Pastoral accountability questions
1. Have you been with a woman anywhere this past week that might be seen as compromising?
2. Have any of your financial dealings lacked integrity?
3. Have you exposed yourself to any sexually explicit material?
4. Have you spent adequate time in Bible study and prayer?
5. Have you given priority time to your family?
6. Have you fulfilled the mandates of your calling?
7. Have you just lied to me?
Wesley’s Band Meeting Questions
1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?
2. What temptations have you been met with?
3. How were you delivered?
4. What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?
5. Have you nothing you desire to keep secret?
James Dobson tells the true story of women who have embraced the biblical teaching of submission and embraced the biblical teaching on servanthood and putting the needs of others first and when their husbands suggested that they should invite another women to join them in their bedroom the women did it. They did it in the name of obedience to the command of God to be submissive. They did it in the name of obedience to the biblical principle of servanthood. When you push servanthood that far, you sled right past the truth into the lap of stupidity.
Some, on the other hand want to erase the biblical injunction for wives to submit to their husband. They speak of mutual submission so loudly so as to erase all distinction between men and women. This is missing the narrow way on the other side. There is a difference.
We are giving our classes answers when what we need to be giving them is questions. Hard questions. Difficult questions that have no Sunday School answers.
When you got it right
You know you got it right when people are still engaged at the end of the hour. You know you got it right when people are arguing and raising their voices and you have to tell them the hour is late. You know you got it right when they call you three days later and say, “I have been thinking about what we talked about and, have you ever thought about this …?”
You know you got it right when you have to remind people that we must disagree agreeably and that we are called upon to live lives where our gentleness is evident to all.
Most Bible Studies are too polite. They are too placid. They are too predictable. They are too sleepy. I love to walk into a class full of Baptists parroting the party line about once-saved-always-saved with this kind of yup-yup tone and just read one verse, “If we disown Him, He will disown us.”
Then someone will speak up and say, “I don’t believe that.”
“It is in the Book.”
“Where?” Now we are about to have a conversation. Now, things are going to get interesting. Now a fight just might break out.
Every truth has a balancing truth, including this one
You can take this truth too far. You can believe this too much. You can take it so far that you believe everything and hold to nothing. Taken too far, your theology is all about yeah-but and you never say with Luther, “Here I stand. God help me. I can do no other.”
Some things don’t have any balancing truth. They just are. Jesus is Lord. God is God. The Bible is truth. These are just truth. We need balance, but not too much balance. Every truth has a balancing truth, including this one. The jump-ball question gets us in touch with that. The lead us to the narrow way.
John Wesley’s Small Group Questions
1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better that I am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
3. Do I confidentially pass onto another what was told me in confidence?
4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?
5. Am I self-conscious, self pitying, or self-justifying?
6. Did the Bible live in me today?
7. Do I give it time to speak to me everyday?
8. Am I enjoying prayer?
9. When did I last speak to someone about my faith?
10. Do I pray about the money I spend?
11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
12. Do I disobey God in anything?
13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
16. How do I spend my spare time?
17. Am I proud?
18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisee who despised the publican?
19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I going to do about it?
20. Do I grumble and complain constantly?
21. Is Christ real to me?
Note: John Wesley is the father of the Methodist Church.
Josh Hunt, How to Use Questions to Stimulate Life-Changing Discussions, Good Questions Have Small Groups Talking (Las Cruces, NM: Josh Hunt, 2010), 59–72.